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PA says committed to free speech, press

April 4, 2012 3:10 P.M. (Updated: April 5, 2012 1:09 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday affirmed its respect for freedom of speech and the press, but called on journalists to maintain "professional standards" on public affairs issues.

Following a week of arrests and other acts of intimidation against the Palestinian press, ministers met for their regular cabinet meeting in Ramallah and insisted the PA would protect journalists' right to work freely.

"The Cabinet affirmed its respect and protection of freedom of speech and the press, and that the government continues to protect journalists' rights to work freely," a summary of the meeting said.

The ministers also called upon journalists "to maintain professional standards particularly on public affairs issues."

The government is working to reach a "formula, in partnership with the concerned bodies, wherein it guarantees that the judiciary would be the sole party mandated, through court rulings, to determine disputed cases related to journalistic work."

"The Cabinet discussed the issue of putting regulations and mechanisms for government institutions' referral to the courts. The Cabinet shall continue its discussions in coming meetings," the statement said without elaborating.

The government is facing a backlash from Palestinian journalists and press freedom groups for a string of arrests targeting critics, for infractions as small as a comment on Facebook.

Police on Monday detained Jamal Hlaihel over a Facebook post deemed critical of the government, Human Rights Watch reported Tuesday. He was the fourth Palestinian to be arrested since last Monday.

"We need laws to clarify the rights of journalists, protecting their work and completely removing the threat of detention and interrogation," said Abdel Nasr al-Najjar, head of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate.

"It's unacceptable that detention for any period should be involved for any charge not related to security," he told Reuters.
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